Dear Friends in Christ:
For the past three days the bishops of The Episcopal Church have been meeting virtually for our spring House of Bishops meeting. During this time, we have addressed several important topics, not the least of which is our response to COVID-19. The situation we are facing is new and changing day by day and as leaders in the community we are all called to make the best response to insure the safety and security of everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us.
I have also been working closely with Heidi Pitts, our diocesan Communications Director, and we have been monitoring the state and local government news about how we should be making decisions concerning church meetings at this time. We will continue to do so and we will make changes to our recommendations as they are deemed necessary. Please continue to look to us and to other reliable sources as you make your own decisions about how to respond to the spread of the virus in your context.
At present the governor of the state, Kate Brown, has asked that meetings of over 250 individuals be canceled. She has said nothing specifically to the religious community and no request has been made to discontinue worship services of under 250 people. Out of an abundance of caution the diocese has made the decision to cancel or postpone a number of events that are scheduled for the next several weeks. We will continue to evaluate these decisions as needed.
Please know that should the clergy in charge of a congregation decide to cancel Sunday services, I will support them. Should the clergy in charge of a congregation decide to continue with Sunday services, I will support them. As the Presiding Bishop shared with us, this is a situation in which local context is key and it in that spirit that I offer my direction to you.
Please do also be aware that pastoral care is of critical importance in this issue. There are people who will experience a heightened sense of social isolation if they are prevented from connecting with others on Sunday morning. My question to you is, how might you mitigate that isolation with other forms of connection?
Should anyone have questions or concerns I do hope you will reach out to me and or to Heidi as we continue to try to offer best practices that are the best hope for the community in the coming days. Please remember Christ’s calling to be not afraid and live in the hope of resurrection.
Bishop Michael Hanley
Episcopal Diocese of Oregon